By BEN KAUFMANN
The Yellowjackets held off a challenging Enosburg team last Friday, leading most of the night but forced to fight until the final buzzer to eke out a 52-48 win.
The win was sorely needed for Milton (11-5), which had dropped three straight games and four of five after racing out to an 8-0 start to the season.
“I’m really proud of the guys. Games like this are games that can go either way and they did a good job finishing,” said Milton coach Chris Brown.
The Hornets (7-7) dropped to .500 with the loss, but proved to be as difficult a foe as the Yellowjackets have seen this season. For the second time this year, Milton clawed its way to a four-point win over the Hornets.
“We played the same game in Enosburg. We played them tough right until the end, it’s just that one play that you don’t make it and they do that changes everything,” said EFHS coach Chad Lovelette.
Noah Swainbank’s 26-point night included 18 in the second half and a perfect 4-for-4 from the line in the fourth quarter for the Hornets. His baseline drive cut Milton’s lead to 51-48 with eight seconds left, but Seth Herrity drained a free throw to make it a two-possession game with too little time left for Enosburg to make it happen.
“He’s a senior, he’s been on this team for four years, so he knows how to get it done,” Lovelette said of Swainbank. “The hardest part is taking him off the floor. I got him a minute in one quarter but he does everything for us so it’s hard to take him off.”
Milton’s contrasting style was effective enough to overcome adversity Friday. The Yellowjackets were able to use just seven players due to injuries and illnesses. All but one of those players scored five or more points against the Hornets, who got more than five only from Swainbank and Logan Jette, who scored seven.
Aggressive Hornet defense and some shooting woes for Milton made for an even battle.
The Yellowjackets took a 15-12 lead after the first quarter that would have been bigger if not for Jette’s buzzer-beating three from right in front of the Milton bench. Charges taken by Hunter Bosley on two of Milton’s last three possessions off the first half helped Enosburg rally in the second to knot the score at 23 at halftime. Only one point — a 35-34 Milton advantage — separated the two heading into the fourth.
Plenty of small moments made up the close contest on Friday, but it was Deven Creamer’s massive fourth quarter for Milton that was the deciding factor. An early three kick-started the Yellowjackets’ fourth and launched an important run, and his second of the period came in the closing minutes with his team in bad need of some separation.
“Deven Creamer came up with some big scores for us in the fourth quarter,” Brown said of the junior, who added six rebounds and four assists to a team-high 14 points. “He made a big three that really gave us some breathing room.”
“He made two threes, those were huge threes,” Lovelette agreed.
Ian Jennings closely followed Creamer on the scoresheet with 13 points backed by four rebounds and three steals. Jennings was unstoppable in the first quarter, toying with Enosburg to the tune of eight points. But the Hornets adjusted and allowed Jennings just five more over the final three quarters.
“We held him to four points in the second half, so that’s not what hurt us,” Lovelette said of his team’s focus on Jennings. “I think their athleticism eventually catches up, and their height and athleticism on us on the boards.”
Milton’s balanced evening included eight points, three assists and four steals from Herrity. Colby Mason scored six points and pulled down four rebounds while Tre Sherwood had a devilishly good night with six points, six rebounds and six assists. Sam Patterson added five points and a pair of rebounds.
The varied scoring and clutch finishing was important for Milton on Friday, but Brown said his squad’s versatile defense was equally key. Conditioning for the Yellowjackets appeared excellent as the hosts mixed in an effective press despite a limited bench.
“We can run multiple defenses and they can execute well against a man defense. So we started doing a little bit of trapping, a half-court trap. We ran some 2-3 zones and some 3-2 zones, just trying to change the looks. Then late in the game we went back to man, which is our staple defense. But we were struggling with it early.”
Brown noted that his team has plenty to work on going forward, specifically lamenting poor free-throw shooting Friday that helped keep Enosburg alive until the end. Brown added that tonight’s trip to Missisquoi will be an excellent test for a Yellowjacket team that has struggled recently outside Milton.
“We’re a good home team, we’re 8-1 at home. And we’ve got to learn a little bit how to play on the road, so the next few games coming up for us are big for us.”
Swainbank’s 26 points weren’t the only highlight for Enosburg.
Bosley came painfully close to adding a third (and crucial) taken charge in the fourth quarter and while no foul was awarded there, his earlier efforts were vital for Enosburg. Jette’s and Tommy Benoit’s first-quarter threes countered Jennings until the Hornets found a solution. Cole Goodhue scored all of his five points in the second half. Bosley, Dylon Murphy and Sam Irish each added two for Enosburg and Parker Snow finished with a point for the Hornets, who were significantly set back by Casey Caforia’s game-ending injury early in the first quarter.
Tough as it can be to see a potential win slip away, Lovelette said Enosburg’s effort against Milton was huge as the team heads down the season’s home stretch. The Hornets’ previous three games had included two losses to Lake Region, each by 25 points.
“After the last couple of games we’ve had, like Lake Region, I take a lot of positives away from this,” said Lovelette.